By Joyce Allen, University Registrar
© 2011 Joyce Allen. The text of this article is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/).
PACRAO Review, vol. 1, no. 2, July 2011
Who we are as individuals, and how the world at large supports us for who we are, is vitally important. However, for many in the majority, it is generally not a daily concern. Minority members of the community put energy into managing his or her identity in the world regularly. Consider ethnic minorities. Until this year schools and colleges were asking students to report whether they were Caucasian, African-American, Asian, Pacific Islander, Hispanic or some other singular ethnicity for IPEDs reporting. For anyone of mixed race, with a mother of one ethnic heritage and a father of another, answering the question of ethnicity using a single descriptor did not reflect an accurate identity. Now students have the opportunity to fully claim who they are with a richer set of choices in which more than one ethnicity can be claimed.
Ethnicity is just one form of minority status. A person can be in a minority when they are not part of the dominant culture, whether that be based on a non-traditional age, a different gender, a non-traditional sexual orientation, a different socio-economic class, from a different country of origin and more. No matter who you are, you can conjure up at least one memory of a time when and a place where you were a part of a minority and you felt uncomfortable or unsupported for being wholly you. It is precisely the recognition that each and every one of us wants and needs to be supported for who we are that prompts this article dealing with those who have a non-majority sexual identity or sexual orientation.
To fully understand the issues involved one must be familiar with the language used by these audiences to describe themselves. One must also gain insight into the challenges these definitions present to our work, and then we can engage in considerations for how the work of our office can be modified to better serve these students, faculty and staff from within the Office of the Registrar.
Here are a basic set of definitions related to the minority audience served by this article. These are taken from the Gender Equity Resource Center site: http://geneq.berkeley.edu/lgbt_resources_definiton_of_terms
Our institutional Student Information System (SIS) and our application, petition and other paper or web-based forms often include role limiting language and require people to select options that do not support a gay or lesbian self understanding. Consider a woman in a committed relationship with another woman. She is frequently only provided the following marital status options: married, single or divorced. None of these capture the nature of the relationship she has with her life partner. Domestic Partner is the language today that often expresses a committed relationship which does not have marriage as an option. Consider adding this language to any marital status option list. In addition, it is helpful to consider anywhere the language of husband or wife is used, to provide the terms partner or spouse. The language defining such relationships is currently fluid as the gay marriage debate evolves. Terms are political even within the LGBTQ community. Some want marriage, defined as it is within the straight community, and some want marriage equality, defined by having parallel civil and legal rights as marriage, but defined differently. This thus explains why spouse (marriage definition) and partner (alternative definition) may be preferred by different people and why you may consider using both.
As more and more gay and lesbian couples raise children, the terms defining family relationships also need consideration. Consider a student applying to your institution who has been raised by two fathers. Your forms and SIS likely contain fields for mother’s name and father’s name. Parent 1 and Parent 2 would be one way to allow this student to more properly name their family members in the system. This alternative naming was an announced change on passport applications in January, 2011.
Gender and Gender Identity considerations are a bit different. For this audience, a person may have an outward appearance that differs from their strictly defined physical gender. Institutions use the SIS provided gender field to support a variety of needs, including but not limited to making room assignments in dorms, determining the pronoun to use in student communications for letters, by faculty when addressing students in the classroom, and in determining some sport participation eligibility. To serve this population fully, changes in how name and gender are handled in the SIS are needed.
For some in this population, matching a name to the outward gender expression is important. Most of our institutions have an SIS that allows a person to change their name. One can have a current name and a former name, but our method for allowing this name change is often based upon a legal name change, requiring a legal name change document, and may even presume a last name change, as has been customary for women getting married or divorced. For governmental programs, such as financial aid, the legal name is vital. However, consider a person, Peter Wong, who by outward appearances presents as female. Peter wants to be known colloquially as Patricia Wong. A name change that would allow her name to appear on faculty rosters as Patricia, but on loan documentation as Peter may be necessary. Expanding the SIS capability to allow for both the legal name and the preferred name, and then assigning when each name should to be used for institutional business is needed.
In addition to name, one has to also consider gender and name prefix fields and their use. For some in this population, a legal change of gender and name may be desired later in a hormone and/or surgical transition process, but for others who are not able or do not choose to take this medical and legal path, they may have a lifelong difference in expressed and legal gender. The gender field used for class rosters and other communications may reflect one term and the gender field used for insurance coverage, for example, may need another. It is therefore recommended that the SIS, as well as forms requiring gender, be modified to include a field for gender as well as gender expression. Additionally, using the binary male or female definition is seen as too limiting for some, most especially among those who identify as queer. It is thus recommended that the gender field on forms be optional or like ethnicity, allow undeclared be added as a valid choice.
The University of Vermont is a great example of an institution of higher learning that has implemented many of the name and gender management recommendations. You can read about this work at: http://www.uvm.edu/~lgbtqa/?Page=transpolicies.html&SM=servicesmenu.html. UVM modified their Banner system to allow anyone in the community, without legal verification, to change their preferred first name and pronoun in the system.
Of course, our offices are more than the data in our systems, we are also employees engaging with customers, whether students, staff or faculty. Learning the language and protocol for working with diverse members of our community is also important. Many campuses offer Safe Space training. A web search will provide many links to programs at institutions nationwide. If your institution does not offer Safe Space training, you can get started by downloading the Safe Space Kit from the Gay, Lesbian, Straight Education Network (GLSEN) website: http://www.glsen.org/cgi-bin/iowa/all/news/record/1641.html Asking a person how they prefer to be addressed and sensitive use of language when describing parents or partners or the customer him/herself is work that goes a long way to providing the support for these sexual minorities on our campuses. In addition, to find model schools in your area, check out the star ratings for colleges and universities nation-wide at Campus Pride: http://www.campusclimateindex.org/.
Engaging as an ally to the LGBTIQ community with both systems support and in personal customer service is the way that we, as Registrar’s, can and should respond to this minority set to say to them, we recognize you for who you are in the world.
About the Author
Joyce Allen is the University Registrar at Seattle University. She identifies as a female lesbian and ally to the broader sexual minority community. She sat on Seattle University’s Committee for Inclusion of Transgender Identity (CITI), which published campus-wide recommendations for creating a more inclusive environment for the LGBTIQ community of students, staff and faculty.